COMMENTARY | She is one of the most talked about, dissected and hotly debated athletes in motorsports history.
But her motor-racing resume might leave some scratching their heads as to why.
Her name is Danica Patrick, and she is perhaps the least successful superstar the world has ever known.
To an outsider, you might think that the one known as Danica has a resume rivaling some of the sport's all-time greats. Her airtime and cover status on some of the world's most influential magazines and newspapers would lead you to believe that she must have at least a few championships and a crown jewel event win or two.
But to a racing savvy fan, you will know that this just isn't the case.
If you look down a chart detailing her entire motor-racing career, you will find something a bit odd, a sight you wouldn't expect for someone with as much media attention and super stardom as her -- a whole bunch of zeros in the win column.
Now don't get me wrong, I haven't overlooked her lone victory at the Indy Japan 300 in Motegi back in 2008, but that is one win in a sea of mediocrity that has defined the career of Wisconsin's racing sweetheart.
So just how middle-of-the-road has she been?
Well, in 15 years of racing in a number of different racing series and high-profile rides, that one win is it. One win. In more than 200 starts in series such as NASCAR, IndyCar and several lower-tier championships, Danica Patrick has one win and a career-best finish of fifth in points in any major racing series.
As you continue to dig deeper into the stats you will find that the IndyCar star had only seven career podiums in 115 starts in open wheel and, to date, one top 10 in her rookie season in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
To her credit, Patrick has achieved a number of "firsts" in her career. She was the first (and only) woman to win an IndyCar race, the highest finishing woman ever in the Indianapolis 500 and the first female pole sitter in NASCAR history, but those firsts have not led to any real measure of true on-track success.
But, despite all of that, does that make her a bad driver? Not necessarily.
PATRICK'S POPULARITY AND VALUE IN NASCAR
People may love to hate on Danica Patrick, but, in reality, things aren't all that bad for the 31-year-old driver. She has sponsors that are fully committed to her, she is on a championship-caliber race team and, above all else, it is easy to forget that she is just getting started on the big stage. IndyCar was one thing, NASCAR is a completely different animal.
And she is going to get the support she needs because Patrick has a lot riding on her. Tony Stewart has put his neck on the line supporting her, letting Chase contending drivers go just to make room for her and her sponsor dollars. And certainly Go Daddy has a lot invested in her.
But NASCAR also has a lot riding on her. The ratings boost and sheer volume of interest in her is enough to make NASCAR as invested in her as any other driver on the tour. She is far and away the most followed driver on social media with nearly 1 million followers on Twitter alone, and that presence can be felt at the races. While many in the NASCAR community are quick to criticize, her popularity cannot be ignored.
She is also the seventh-most valuable NASCAR driver, according to Forbes, sitting just south of $13 million. The combined top 10 list of most valuable drivers features a who's who list of NASCAR royalty with over 300 wins and a dozen championships. Danica is the only person on that list without a win. Heck, 10th-place Brad Keselowski has the fewest wins on the list with nine, but he also has a championship.
NASCAR'S KEY STATEMENT
In that same article in Forbes, NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps said, "She has polarized some fans and that is a good thing for a sport." He added that she is a "great brand" and a "marketing phenomenon."
With a statement like that, it is clear just how much NASCAR needs for her to do well.
Just having her running around riding in the back of the pack isn't helping anyone. NASCAR, Stewart and Go Daddy all need results. She simply can't hide on the Sprint Cup stage like she did in IndyCar.
In a time of sagging attendance and falling ratings, a Danica Patrick win or some measure of success in NASCAR would result in an immediate boost to the sport. That, more than anything, is why NASCAR needs for her to do well.
Keep in mind, this is only her rookie season. People tend to forget that Patrick is only two years into her stock car racing career, and she is still getting a handle on these cars and tracks.
Will she one day be a Chase contender, or, possibly, a Sprint Cup race winner? Only time will tell.
But, for now, a whole lot of people, perhaps none more so than NASCAR itself, have a lot riding on her success.L.A. Crum is a motorsports writer from Ohio. He is an avid fan of all things racing and college athletics and has worked with many of the top teams and drivers in the racing industry during his career. He is a proud graduate of Marshall University.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Danica Patrick